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  • Context (IE | NT): A new study by Chinese and Dutch researchers reveals that reusing or recycling Rare earth metals can meet 40% of their demand in the US, China, and Europe by 2050.

Rare earth metals distribution across the world

Significance of Rare Earth Metals

  • Rare earths play a crucial role in green technologies like electric vehicles and wind turbines.
  • Industries such as aircraft, missile, and satellite manufacturing rely on rare earth metals.
  • Unlike fossil fuels, rare earths can be recovered and reused.
  • They have unique magnetic, luminescent, and electrochemical properties.
  • Uban mining: It refers to collecting rare metals from discarded appliances and electronic devices, rather than from the earth

Significance of recycling

  • Recycling rare earths can reduce the environmental impact of mining operations. Mining often pollutes soil and water with toxic heavy metals, posing environmental and health risks.
  • Rare earth mining operations are sometimes associated with local conflicts and human rights violations. E.g. Myanmar–China Border Region. Reusing already-mined rare earths can contribute to ethical sourcing and conflict-free supply chains.
  • Using our old stuff for rare earth metals can make our supply chains safer and reduce risks.
  • Reduce the cost of renewable energy There can be a 60 per cent reduction in mining of Neodymium and dysprosium (REM) (used in wind turbines) by 2050 through effective reuse and recycling.

Challenges

  • Only about 1% of rare earths in old products are currently reused or recycled. While common metals like iron, copper, and aluminium are widely recycled.
  • Rare earths are frequently mixed with other metals, making their extraction challenging.
  • Some rare-earth recycling methods involve the use of hazardous chemicals.

India & Rare Earth Metals

  • At 6 percent of total known rare earth deposits,the Rare Earth resources in India are reported to be the fifth largest in the world.
  • In India, monazite is the principal source of rare earths and thorium.

    Monazite reserves in India

  • Indian resources contain Light Rare Earth Elements (LREE), while Heavy Rare Earth Elements (HREE) are not available in extractable quantities.
  • In Indian deposits, only Neodymium and Praseodymium (LREE) are available and are being extracted up to 99.9 % purity level.
  • The minability of REE is further constrained due to CRZ regulations, Mangroves, Forests and inhabitation.
  • Indian Rare Earth Limited (IREL), a Mini Ratna Company under the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and KMML, a Kerala State Government Undertaking, are actively engaged in the mining and processing of beach sand minerals from placer deposits.
  • Placer deposits: A type of mineral deposit in which grains of a valuable mineral like gold or the rare earths are mixed with sand deposited by a river or glacier
  • IREL is the only entity processing monazite to produce Rare Earth (RE) compounds.

Principal sources of Rare Earth Elements (REE)

Source

Details

Bastnaesite Found in carbonatites and related igneous rocks
Xenotime Commonly found in mineral sand deposits.
Loparite occurs in alkaline igneous rocks and monazite
Diverse Minerals Recovery as by-products occurs from phosphate rock and leaching.
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